Dear Friends in Christ
I suppose it was too much to hope for; we all seemed ready for it, longing for it, desperately needing it. We wanted a respite from the rhetoric, the nastiness, the name-calling and the finger-pointing we had all endured for almost two years. We wanted some quiet and some rest following one of (if not) the most contentious presidential election cycles in memory, if not in the history of our nation. One wished the final sound of the 2016 presidential election was that funny electronic signal one’s TV gives out when it is turned off following the calling of the race by the “mainstream media” and the media that claims to be, at the same time, outside the mainstream and “the most watched news network” on TV. Enough already!
No such luck. If anything this post-election, pre-inauguration period is every bit as much a season of backroom plotting and deal making, charging and counter-charging as we had before the first early voting ballot was cast. This has not been a stellar time in our nation’s history, not an exemplary demonstration of how Americans promote and protect their liberty in an effort to keep from, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “committing suicide” by allowing our unparalleled freedom to die of neglect.
With the prevailing candidates and party full of vim and vigor over their victory and the losing candidates and party pledging to be spoilers, even of the upcoming traditional celebrations, to say nothing of the political and leadership agendas, I fear we are in for a long slog ahead.
It’s been an interesting political season in the church as well. As usual many churchgoers have waited for their favorite ministry leader, television preacher or local pastor to come out for one candidate or another before going public themselves. Over and over again I have heard, first this interpretation then that interpretation of what the First Amendment and the rules governing tax exempt organizations allow me to say and do as a pastor. I was flabbergasted to hear that there was (even) a faint concern about too much republican politics from the pulpit; really?
I feel fortunate that no one asked me who I voted for, thereby sparing me the unenviable task of declaring, in all Christian love of course “It’s none of your business.” Of greater relief is that, to my knowledge, we lost only one member who voluntarily disfellowshiped (spellcheck says this is not a word) due to inhospitableness associated with the perceived conservative orientation of our congregation.
I should hasten to add that there is no relief but rather, grief, over losing even one member of our congregation to disfellowshiping (another non-word according to MS – should there be two “Ps” in disfellowshipping…an entire series of sermons dealing with words is fast approaching in 2017!).
And, I guess that’s what lingers on my mind, not as an American who, like all Americans, awaits the real outcome of the political process in which we have all participated but as an American who is a follower of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. How have we done as a congregation that worshiped through, fellowshipped through and served through this terribly difficult time of striking differences of opinion?
I am proud to know that, in the main, our congregation was thoughtful, prayerful and faithful about their vote casting. It was a tough go. One of my closest and most trusted confidants, friends and partners in ministry advertised his support for president for someone I had never even heard of who was a member of a party I had never even heard of. The need to research it all was good for me even though that candidate did not get my vote.
Another gentleman who I can describe as I did my brother, above, declared he could not in good conscience vote for one of the candidates and face members of his family. I said the same exact thing about the other candidate. And yet, having not seen these two brothers for two weeks due to travel, I look forward to the fellowship I trust we will enjoy when we gather together on this Lord’s Day.
And there’s the key. It’s not the mutual support of a national leader that unites us with an unbreakable bond – it’s our mutual submission to the Lord of the universe. The real, true and eternal E Pluribus Unum that can and must be practiced in the church and modeled for a fractured and unbelieving world is the many who are one in Jesus Christ. That oneness composed of thousands upon ten thousands will not last for a civilization…it will last for an eternity.
Last Sunday, having arrived one hour late for worship at my daughter’s church in Lynchburg, VA (Note to our staff: Don’t forget to update the website!) I returned to her home to watch the live stream of the service from Beverly Heights. I always miss the congregation when I am away, having worshiped with my dear flock for over 30 years. But, in addition to the familiar sights, sounds and faces of those I love so much I was delighted to see someone else besides Pastor Nate in the pulpit (don’t worry – he knows what I mean). The face was that of the pastor of an Evangelical Presbyterian Church just up the street from us whose congregation worshiped with ours due to a water main break earlier in the week.
I know nothing of Pastor Tim’s politics and, frankly, it is none of my business. I don’t know how our congregation of Christ-followers would compare to M.L.E.P.C.’s congregation as to the percentage of those who voted for one presidential candidate versus the other. I think it is irrelevant.
What is highly relevant, in my judgement, is that two congregations of people who love Jesus Christ and have committed themselves to advancing His kingdom, in different ways, in different places and with different resources can, together, humble themselves before the throne of King Jesus and know an unparalleled wonder, joy, love, acceptance and community – a taste of the heavenly E Pluribus Unum that awaits all those who look for Christ’s coming again.
May the Lord bring even a hint of that kind of unity to our fractured land and may He use the unity He is building in our congregation to be a vibrant witness to its reality for all to see. Soli deo gloria!
Faithfully in Him,